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Nex Benedict’s suicide coincides with a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws – and some people’s misunderstanding about transgender and nonbinary individuals

Marie-Amelie George, Wake Forest University, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

No charges will be filed in connection with a bathroom fight that happened the day before a 16-year-old nonbinary high school student, Nex Benedict, died by suicide in Oklahoma. The Tulsa County district attorney’s office made the announcement on March 21, 2024.

Benedict was beaten so badly by three female students that they blacked out and had to go to the hospital for treatment. The students previously mocked Benedict and their friends “because of the way that we dress,” according to a statement Benedict gave to the police the day of the fight.

The news of Benedict’s death generated outrage from LGBTQ+ rights activists, who connected the tragedy to the sentiment and ideology behind a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws sweeping the country.

In 2024 alone, various state legislatures have introduced almost 500 such bills, many of which target LGBTQ+ youth in schools. Some of these bills restrict which restrooms transgender students can use and which sports teams they can join. Others censor the information that all students receive at school about sexual orientation and gender identity. As of March 2024, 189 of these proposals have advanced and 15 have been enacted.

The number of reported LGBTQ+ hate crimes committed at schools more than doubled between 2018 and 2022, particularly in states like Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas, which have anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Transgender and nonbinary students, in particular, are more likely to be harassed and assaulted today than they were five years ago.

As a law professor who has written extensively on gay and lesbian legal history and contemporary LGBTQ+ rights, I have studied the legislative debates over these bills in detail. What they reflect is many people’s continuing discomfort with – and sometimes outright hostility to – transgender and nonbinary identity.

 

Here are a few important points to understand about transgender and nonbinary individuals.

Transgender publicly emerged in the U.S. as a kind of social identity in the 1990s, while the first use of the term nonbinary dates to the early 2000s.

People identified as transgender or nonbinary long before either term came into existence.

However, both labels are relatively new. So is the word cisgender, the term for individuals whose gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth.

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